President Donald Trump’s former “fixer” Michael Cohen said Thursday that he paid the head of a small technology company thousands in 2015 to rig online polls at “the direction of and for the sole benefit of” Trump.
Cohen was responding to a report in The Wall Street Journal that he paid John Gauger, the owner of RedFinch Solutions LLC, between $12,000 and $13,000 for activities related to Trump’s campaign, including “trying unsuccessfully to manipulate two online polls in Mr. Trump’s favor” and creating a Twitter account called “@WomenForCohen” that “praised (Cohen’s) looks and character, and promoted his appearances and statements boosting” Trump’s candidacy.
In making the claim, Gauger told the paper he wasn’t fully paid for the work, though the Journal said Cohen was reimbursed $50,000 – the amount the two originally agreed on for Gauger’s services – by the Trump Organization. Gauger, according to the paper, also received a boxing glove “worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter” along with the cash payment.
The paper said that Cohen denied paying Gauger in cash, instead telling the Journal that “all monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check” and declining to comment further. The Trump Organization did not comment to the Journal. Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for Trump, told the paper that the allegation that Cohen received more money than what he paid to Gauger shows he’s a “thief.”
Later Thursday morning in a statement to CNN, Cohen said his actions were “at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”
CNN has reached out to the Trump Organization for response to Cohen’s claim. An attorney for Gauger said they would not comment further on the Journal’s story.
The Journal said that Cohen’s reimbursement was made around the same time that he received a $130,000 reimbursement from Trump for expenses incurred during the 2016 election. CNN has previously reported that Cohen used the $130,000 as a hush money payment to a woman who allegedly had an affair with Trump, which Trump denies.
Gauger told the paper that Cohen asked him in early 2014 to help Trump score well in a CNBC online poll of business leaders and a 2015 Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates. Gauger’s efforts for the CNBC poll were unsuccessful, according to the paper, and Trump ranked low in the Drudge Report poll.
Cohen has publicly broken with Trump since cooperating with the Mueller investigation. He is expected to testify before the House Oversight Committee next month and is prepared to discuss topics related to hush money payments and aspects of the Trump Organization, including the roles of the President and his children, a source familiar with the matter has said.
CNN’s Cristina Alesci contributed to this report.